It’s all about you
by Isaac Villegas
Feb 13, 2013
“It’s not about you.” That’s the first sentence of a popular Christian book published a decade ago: The Purpose-Driven Life, a New York Times bestseller.
“It’s not about you.” That’s wrong, and Lent shows us why, because during Lent we remember that it is all about us — our habits, our hungers, our desires, our frailty as human beings, our earthiness. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
With these ashes, we are confronted with our lives, with our self. As our foreheads are marked with ashes, we learn to look at dirt and see ourselves. The ashes are a mirror, to see ourselves more clearly, to see that we are human, that we are lumps of clay, made from dust, yet created to be loved by God. The truth is that God loves dirt, this dirt that has become our bodies, our lives. And that God has come to share this life with us, this life in the flesh, this life of ashes — that’s what the incarnation is all about, that God has become flesh, that God has decided to make her life, his life, all about us, to share life with us, to make it impossible to separate God’s life from our lives.
These ashes are a mirror that help us see ourselves more clearly, which is to see God more clearly: the God whose love gathers up dirt and makes it human, in God’s likeness, an image, a window, a mirror drawing us to look into God’s life, the one who breathes through us.
Lent is 40 days, not 40 days of purpose, not 40 days to put together a plan for your life, not 40 days to fix your spirituality. Instead, Lent is 40 days of wandering, like Israel in the wilderness, like Jesus at the beginning of his ministry — 40 days of wandering, of circling back to ourselves, to our ordinary life, to what we do with our hands and our eyes, our mouths and our stomachs. Learning how to pay attention to our desires, to experiment with ways of listening better. That’s what fasting is all about. Fasting isn’t a way to punish ourselves for sins. It’s not a form of penance. Instead, fasting is an experiment of listening, of paying attention — an experiment with our flesh, with our humanness, with our appetites. A fast is a way to circle back, again and again, daily, weekly, to a particular longing, and to feel it, to get to know it, to make it familiar, to rest in it, and to see what mysteries it reveals about who we are, about how we were created, about why we do the things we do — and, ultimately, to get to know the God who is there, in our desires, in our longings, hidden perhaps, but there nonetheless, closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Augustine of Hippo put it.
Lent is an invitation to listen, to examine our desires, to rest into our humanness, and to listen for what God may be saying, to hear the whispers of God’s love, of God’s care, of God’s life with us, in us, and to follow where God leads, to wander into God’s life in our world, in our joys, in our pleasures; God’s presence in our heartache, in our loneliness.
40 days — time set aside, not for a great purpose, but for a kind of purposelessness, a time for paying attention to our mundane desires, our ordinary longings, the appetites that are so normal to us that we don’t think twice about them. During Lent, we pose questions to our life, to this flesh of ashes, of earth: What is this body that God has created, my body? And how can it be that God loves it, this piece of earth, this clay, this dust?
As we circle back to ourselves, again and again, we wander into the God who made us, who formed us, who breathes through us:
“Then the Lord God formed a human being from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)
“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn. 20:21-22)